Yesterday I pulled out all of my road trip with kids ninja skills for a 10 hour journey from Mississippi to Florida. For at least 9 of those hours we were sitting in a car. That’s me, my husband and two boys, aged 9 and 7. We’ve been road tripping with the kids, all over the USA for around a month now, heading from frozen Niagara Falls to the Florida Keys. My road trip skills are getting better.
Was it hard? No
Did they fight? No
Did they whinge? No
Were everyone’s nerves frazzled to the point of throwing each other from a moving vehicle? Actually, no, surprisingly.
What is my secret super-power? How did I become a child wrangling road trip ninja? I’d like to share some secrets to happy car journeys with you.
Becoming a Road Trip With Kids Ninja
I used to suck at this. I have screamed, shouted, bribed and threatened with the best of them, but over time I’ve found a few tricks.
Australia is a vast and often empty country.
Our drive to the nearest cinema, shopping mall or meet-up with homeschooling friends was over an hour.
To take a weekend camping trip we’d regularly drive for 6 hours.
To drive to the airport in Brisbane to go on holiday we’d drive for 24 hours exactly. Yes, that’s non stop!
I’ve spent the last month road tripping around the USA, from NYC to Canada to Florida to NOLA and back to Florida again. The USA is a stunning country for road trips and we’ve had a blast. I’ve had a lot of learning experiences and I’ve got a whole lot better at this thing.
I’ve had plenty of time to make mistakes and learn from them, here are some tips to make your road trip with kids more enjoyable for everyone.
Tips to Make You a Road Trip With Kids Bearable
If at all possible, sit in the back with them.
This makes a whole world of difference, you can talk properly, share books or games properly, snuggle with them, resolve conflicts and be their cushion when they fall asleep. It is so much better than having to shout at them from the front or be constantly turning around. I get car sick badly in Australia, but for some reason I’m fine in cars in the UK or USA, I can even read to the kids. Try it before you dismiss it as a non-starter.
Always carry water, fruit and nuts (or other protein).
The top tip here is not to let them know you have food. If they know it’s there they’ll ask for it. Keep it for emergencies to pull out if they are genuinely hungry, not just when they are bored. Fruit helps pass the time and protein stops hunger, try feeding them 1 nut at a time, make it a game of some sort. You get more happy minutes/mouthful and more miles/smile that way. Avoid sugary and high carb foods, particularly on an empty stomach. they don’t help.
Know your kids and know their patterns.
Mine have predictable patterns of behaviour on long journeys. For the first hour or so they are fine, then they will sleep. When they wake up they will start getting very active, playful or grumpy. This is a good time to take a break and feed them or the tricky patch goes on and on. After a break the pattern seems to repeat again, OK, sleep, wake up difficult.
Have props on hand.
Have props. Unexpected props are the best. A new audio book, some favourite music, a book to look at, pens and note pads or a (safe, quiet) toy or game to play with. We love the Horrible Histories Audio Books, education and entertainment in one. My boys will listen to them over and over. They will even do written school work in the back seat if I’m there to encourage them. Trust me, they don’t like school work at all normally.
There are heaps, I’m sure you know some, here are a few of ours.
You all know the rules to that one.
Think of an Animal
First player says “I’m thinking of an animal beginning with G.”
Other players take it in turns to ask questions about the animal, Player 1 can only answer yes or no.
Encourage the kids to use the zoological classifications “Is it a vertebrate?”, “Is it a reptile?” , “is it a snake?” etc.
The alphabet game
Mum calls out a letter the kids have to be first to call out the following letter. I got my boys proficient with the alphabet this way.
We’ve passed hours drawing funny pictures and passing them to each other.
Take Real Breaks
When it’s time to eat always do it out of the car. Be it a picnic or a restaurant stop, get out and stretch your legs so that you all restart your road trip refreshed. If at all possible get some fresh air and have a run around, play tag or climb a hill.
Never Wake a Sleeping Child
This should be the first rule of parenting. Never wake a sleeping child unless you really have to. If they are asleep, leave them asleep, take your car break when they wake up. Snatch 40 winks with them if you can, not if you’re the driver, obviously.
As loudly and as raucously as you can. The kids will love you for it. Anything at all, singing is good.
Have Cushions and Blankets Handy
Let them get comfortable and they’ll sleep better.
Yesterday, for the first time, I pulled out my laptop and the three of us played Zoo Tycoon for almost 2 hours in the back seat. Yesterday was an exceptional day, we’ve never needed to kill that much time before. I’d far rather do that than plug them in to their own individual tablets, i-thingies and DVD players. I’d rather be present, in the moment, with them, isn’t travel about making family memories?